Addicted Jews

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Jewish Alcoholics & Drug Abusers


    In 1952, Professor Snyder, then at Yale University, published a study concerning Jews and alcoholism. He recognized the common belief that “Jews don’t drink”, or at least do not get drunk and do not have alcohol problems.

    The sociological explanation then and now is to the effect that Jews drink wine as a religious ritual on the Sabbath and Holy Days and therefore do not identify alcohol with an alleviator of daily troubles (Tzoores), but rather view it as divorced from the needs of everyday life. By contrast, Irish, Swedish and other heavy drinkers were described as having been taught in their culture that alcohol can relieve immediate stress and that alcohol is also responsible for “good times”, fun, sex, humor, camaraderie, etc.

    It was further held that Jews were not welcome in bars and drinking establishments and therefore never learned to participate in heavy drinking with other Americans. This has changed a great deal at this time, so that Jewish business associates who work with non-Jews do indeed participate in social situations of all kinds in which alcohol is used and yet appear not to become alcohol dependent in very large numbers.

    There is also some evidence that some Jews are genetically protected against alcoholism even if they do drink a good deal. In a journal entitled Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research it is claimed that those with the gene ADH2*2, which occurs much more commonly in the Jewish population than in the general Caucasian population, drink less often and consume less alcohol than those without that gene, and have more unpleasant reactions to alcohol use.

     The study revealing this was made by Professor Deborah Hasin of Columbia University. 68 Israeli Jews provided genetic material to test the presence of ADH2*2.

     Rabbi Abrahm Twerski, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, is a nationally recognized expert on alcoholism. He contends that despite the low rate of alcoholism among Jews, the problem is not as negligible today as it was in the past. According to Twersky, we need to recognize that there is a Jewish alcohol and drug dependency problem among us which we do not want to acknowledge. As a result, Jewish addicts are forced to get help from non-Jewish sources. Twersky argues that we cannot allow our embarrassment concerning alcoholism to interfere in providing help to Jews who need this.

    Since 1980 a group known as Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons, and Significant Others, has supported Jews suffering from these conditions. This group provides retreats for recovering persons and has developed local JACS chapters.

    The facts are that dependency is a Jewish problem and cannot be ignored. Therefore, some of our synagogues have become involved in dealing with this, and in New York City the Jewish Federation has supported programs for those who need them.

    It is my opinion that a significant reason for the increase in Jewish substance abuse in recent years has been (a) the greater acceptance of Jews as friends and relatives of non-Jews and (b) the high intermarriage rate (53%). This leads not only to an increase in the number of Jews who drink too much because they live with someone who does so, but it also increases the number of converts to Judaism. These Jews by choice may be accustomed to drinking more than genetic Jews but lack the protective gene ADH2*2.

    Furthermore, the alcohol problem is not the only dependency problem. Jews have no protective gene against all the other drugs in use, as evidenced by Jews who are heavily into marijuana and other drugs.

   We Jews also have another addiction. It is called “workaholism”. There is no known cure for that, but so what? That addiction has made us the most successful people on earth. May it always be so.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Fraud (2007).

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